Changes on the Ryan Ranch, located near the Skyline Ranch subdivision, have raised concerns among Teton County residents who care about this property. At The Nature Conservancy, we also care deeply about this place and its conservation legacy.
We are grateful to the conservation pioneers who granted the easements in 1974 and 1977 to ensure this property will remain protected from uncontrolled residential and commercial development.
While we know changes this year have been disruptive, we believe there will be ecological benefits—one of the important values protected by the easement—when the plan is completed. Located in areas that were historic wetlands, the new ponds and wetlands will improve water quality and provide waterfowl and shorebird habitat. In addition, more than 150 acres will remain open for grazing and haying.
The Conservancy will remain active in monitoring the development of the Ryan Ranch and playing a constructive role there. And we will all continue to benefit from the foresight of the people who conserved this land.
Q: What is The Nature Conservancy’s role with the ranch?
The Nature Conservancy is the steward of two conservation easements on this property. The easements protect the ranch against uncontrolled residential development.
John and Gloria “Georgie” Morgan and Harry and Margaret Barker donated the first conservation easement in Wyoming in 1974 on about 50 acres of the ranch. The second easement on the ranch, donated in 1977 by Harry and Margaret Barker and Peter and Jean Jorgensen, also covers the original 50-acre parcel and protects the remainder of the ranch, consisting of about 170 additional acres.
The Conservancy has been engaged in reviewing the new ranch owner’s proposed projects, ensuring that the enforceable legal terms of the conservation easements are upheld.
Q: What are conservation easements?
Conservation easements are one of the most powerful, effective tools available for the conservation of private lands. Their use has successfully protected millions of acres of wildlife habitat and open space in the United States and in many countries.
A conservation easement is a restriction placed on a piece of property to protect its ecological or open space values. It is a voluntary, legally binding agreement that limits certain types of uses or prevents uncontrolled development from taking place now and in the future. In a conservation easement, a landowner voluntarily agrees to donate or sell certain rights associated with his or her property, such as the right to subdivide, and a private organization or public agency agrees to hold and enforce the terms of the conservation easement.
Each conservation easement is unique; the rights that can be enforced over time depend upon the explicit terms of the easement. Because conservation easements are designed to provide long-term protection, they have to be written with clear terms to guide future landowners and easement holders.
The Conservancy stewards 166 easements around Wyoming, safeguarding some 280,000 acres. We take very seriously our responsibility to steward all conservation easements with which we have been entrusted. We regularly and diligently enforce the easement rights that we hold.
Q: Without the conservation easements, what could have happened to the ranch?
Without conservation easements, the 1977 Teton County regulations could have allowed a subdivision of up to 68 homes on the nearly 220-acre property. More than 30 homes could have been allowed under today’s Teton County regulations.
One of the most powerful aspects of conservation easements is this ability to limit subdivision and protect ecological, agriculture or open space values for future generations.
Q: Why is the Conservancy allowing the disturbances on the ranch?
When accepting and stewarding a conservation easement, the Conservancy has an obligation to uphold the terms of the easement, without going beyond those terms. The ranch’s new owner did not ask the Conservancy to amend the easements in any way.
The terms of the conservation easements allow for changes to occur on the property, including the building of a limited number of residences.
In addition, we believe the project will return wetlands to the ranch. The new deep-water ponds and adjacent wetlands will support enhanced swan and other wildlife habitat. The berms, which are not prohibited by the easements, will be vegetated with native species to encourage a variety of wildlife habitat. Additionally, the water features should improve the quality of the water flowing through the ranch.
Q: How many residences are allowed under the terms of the conservation easements?
Per the 1977 easement, the residence that existed on the ranch at the time of the easement is allowed and may be maintained. In addition, there are four residential structures allowed on the ridge above the original home site, which may be subdivided from the rest of the ranch, and one additional residence and associated structures are allowed in the bottomland.
The current owner is planning to construct a new residence with outbuildings in the bottomland. We reviewed the placement of the residence to be sure it was consistent with the easements; there were no restrictions in the easements regarding the residence’s size. The building plans are under review with the Teton County Planning Department.
Q: Is the wetland project funded by the USFWS related to the earthwork on the property now?
No. The proposed project on the southern meadows is still being developed. This project will not reduce the meadow size but rather will allow for seasonal flooding that will enhance early season migratory waterfowl habitat in the historic wetlands. It will be accomplished by a series of 1- to 2-foot tall head gates that allow temporary flooding only.